By Diane Slawych

As a potential homebuyer, I want to know as much about a property as possible, and that includes any problems with the place. The fact is, most homes have some issues and when you know what they are, you’re better prepared for any expenses down the road.

Naturally, sellers prefer not to reveal any problems. After all, they’re motivated to sell. Sometimes, however, they can be incredibly forthcoming, as I discovered earlier this year when I asked a real estate agent to show me a few homes in a city in southern Ontario.

When we pulled up to the third property on our list, the first thing I noticed were the multiple railway tracks – just meters away from the house. Seeing this, I decided it probably wasn’t for me. I prefer quiet. But what cemented my opinion was what the homeowner later revealed.

“I didn’t know you were coming,” a woman said after opening the front door. My agent quickly showed her the confirmation on her cell phone and we were welcomed inside to have a look.

But there wasn’t much to see. The home was tiny, only 600-square-feet. The one and only bedroom, which would’ve made up a third of the house, was off limits because the woman didn’t want to disturb her husband, who was in bed sick.

This was perfectly understandable, but it got me wondering about the health of the neighbourhood. Someone was sick in bed at the first house we visited not far away. Was it a coincidence or was there something in the air, or the water that was making people ill?

Maybe that factory just beyond the railway tracks was to blame. From the house there was a clear view of its chimneys, belching thick plumes of grey smoky pollution into the sky.

I surveyed the small living room and wondered where I could possibly fit my office. That’s when the homeowner revealed what she obviously considered one of the home’s finer selling points. “We haven’t had a flood in two years,” she chirped. She made it sound as if floods were a regular occurrence. “Oh, that’s good,” I chimed, somewhat hesitantly.

There wasn’t much room to move around in the kitchen. I glanced out the window that overlooked the railway tracks. “If you’re worried about the trains, you don’t even hear them after a while,” she explained, as if reading my mind.

“It’s nice,” I said, feeling the need to compliment the homeowner, “but it’s a bit small for my needs.” I returned to the specs – newish roof, no basement and a listing price just shy of $200,000, which seemed high for a place that was smaller than some hotel rooms.

Not much left to see, so I head outside. Sensing my growing disinterest and perhaps fearing she was about to lose a chance to sell her home, she followed me out.

“These trees are beautiful in the spring,” she said enthusiastically, pointing to the edge of her property, which was lined with a row of tall trees with bare branches. I surveyed the street of similarly sized single-storey detached houses when the homeowner offered what may have been her coup de grace. “You know,” she said, “we are the only house on the street that hasn’t been tagged with graffiti!”

If this was an attempt to highlight the home as some sort of gem in the neighbourhood, it had the opposite effect. I pondered why all the houses were being vandalized. And who’s to say this one won’t be targeted in future?

I hadn’t actually noticed graffiti on any of the other houses. Maybe it was around the back or has since been removed. In any event, the thought of vandalism was worrying.

By now I was standing on the sidewalk ready to leave. But where was the agent? Oblivious that I was no longer interested, the homeowner had taken her around to the side and now they were crouching on the ground inspecting the crawl space! Good heavens! Could she actually be interested in this property or was she being polite?

Back in the car, I shook my head in disbelief. “That was quite the reveal,” I said. We both laughed. It was our first time out together and we hadn’t arranged any clues in advance to signal when I was ready to leave.

Oh well, I thought, looking on the bright side, at least she didn’t ask us to remove our shoes. It would’ve been a shame to get dog hair all over my brand-new black Tilley socks.


  1. Diane,

    As usual, a thought-provoking article.
    I can’t resist noting my comment posted at Jeff Stern’s June 27, 2018 REM article about wasting time. Scroll down at:

    The contents of your article might be more true than you realize and were not at all difficult to visualize. I’m sure you must have been in our town. You described the property perfectly.

    Clearly a visit in my boardroom would have saved valuable time, (what WAS your agent thinking?) but would have deprived you both of the learning experience.

    Your words completely described a local property that a relo client brought to our mandatory meeting, cut out from the local newspaper ad, among dozens of others in his folder, all but demanding to have it put on his let’s see this one folder of ads.

    Of course I told him if he insisted on wanting to see it he would have to call another agent. I knew the area well, and the property didn’t meet any of the desires on his wish-list. None. He really did need to work with your agent. But of course the ad made the property seem a likely prospect.

    I invited him to let me take an hour to be a city tour guide. I didn’t often resort to doing such, reserving that aspect mostly for relo clients. Relo is always more work, and the relo corp got a 35% fee. The only good thing about doing relo work – in a slow market it was a guaranteed business.

    But as relo demanded more and more paperwork that I learned seldom even got read in detail, along with higher relo fees, I stopped doing relo work.

    But I knew how to keep a tight lid on the pot so to speak. I had rules (but they applied to everyone equally).

    He was transferring in from Spain and it seemed his corp relo company had failed to educate him on the finer points of his new location, but paid for his car rental. He was a young man with a young wife and a small child.

    I pointed out a few areas where his money would stand a good chance of a respectable ROI when he transferred out in a few years. They ended up buying in one of my suggested areas, (he chose an MLS listing), and three years later right on cue he rang me up to sell it as he left town, transferred overseas.

    And again, even in a down market he made a substantial profit. And, oh, yes, I sent my cleaning crew in (it desperately needed it; in fact I sent in a restoration company crew), and as always fresh flowers. And up went another SOLD sign on the periphery of my farms.

    Thanks for the memory.

    Carolyne L ?

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